Living Thought Book Event: The Boundaries of Philosophy and Life

Roberto Esposito’s Living Thought is exquisitely written work, filled with delightfully poetic turns of phrase that bring his philosophical subjects to vivacious life. It genuinely is a joy to read and I would gladly commend it to even non-specialist readers. Like other books of its type, in introducing an number of figures I had previously not been exposed to in detail as well as being furnished with rich footnotes, the work represents a jumping off point for further consideration of Italian philosophy, perhaps even mapping out a distinctive future programme of research. One could consider reading other claims of the “Italian difference” that preceding this work, for example Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno’s collection (Virno is interestingly is unmentioned here) Radical Thought In Italy through the various constructs that Esposito presents here. Indeed, the discussion of Antonio Negri and Mario Tronti appears to suggest this strategy. For example, Esposito states that Italian philosophy was a form that was distinctively anti-state in its orientation due to the historical lack of a centralised Italian state – Italian radical politics appears to similarly orientate itself against the state.

In an earlier post, Adam asked if other philosophers could be potentially be consider “honorary Italians” by virtue of their philosophical writings illustrating the same factors that Esposito locates as being especially Italian characteristics and traces from the renaissance to the present day. I wonder more if there is a danger of Esposito’s claim that Italian philosophy presents a unique relationship between philosophy and life that would encourage readers to believe that for the remainder of European thought can be read through the Heideggerian quip on the lives of philosopher: “He was born, he thought, he died”. For Esposito, Italian philosophy situates itself uniquely by collapsing the relationship which allows him in part to include artists (Leonard da Vinci), writers (Dante) and film makers (Pasolini) in his canon precisely because Italian thought is about the lived life, the political life, even biological life, not abstract thought that divorces from the conflictual, historical or corporal dimensions of living. Which is to say, Esposito’s canon of philosophers lived lives. One can think of the political involvement in the life of court of the key figure of Machiavelli here as an exemplar.

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Weapons Grade Snark: Against Barth On Religions

I am frankly offended by this stunning display of bad faith, initiated by Barth’s tortured dialectic and Green’s defence of so transparent a piece of sophistry […] The parochialism and abject ignorance of the advocates of the Barthian position is not only embarrassing, it is offensive to the dignity of the spiritual and religious lives of literally billions of fellow human beings.

Ivan Strenski, “On “Religion” and Its Despisers,” in What is religion?: origins, definitions, and explanations, ed. Thomas A. Idinopulos and Brian C. Wilson (Leiden: Brill, 1998). responding to Green Garrett, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theology of Religion,” The Journal of Religion 75, no. 4 (1995).

Imagine writing a piece that was so offensive that it actually was offensive to billions of people.

Derrida Wars Again

In a recent blog post, Graham Harman claims that the problem with Derrida is that he prevaricates too much, that he doesn’t take a stance. Therefore, in his discussion of the his books, Derrida questions the notion of the book. Harman writes:

There is an inherent problem with this compulsive unwillingness to stand anywhere in particular even while insisting that purported gullible dupes such as the person who was kind enough to interview Derrida are the very incarnation of naiveté for daring to use such credulous words as “book.”

I’m the first, in my irritatingly English empiricist manner, to hate on someone for their “flowery” prose style. But isn’t this sort of thing what philosophy is? Seems to me that questioning the meaning of words beyond a naive reception is the beginning of all philosophical reflection. Indeed Derrida’s statement not only seems intelligible to me (it seems a live question as to how can we talk of books as individuals when they are part of this huge canon), but is a provocative and interesting thought, which is to say, a philosophical thought…

English Riots – The Stupidity of Right Wing Reason – A Note On Liberalism

Our old friend Phillip Blond has offered his solution to the English riots (note English, no riots occurred in Scotland or Wales – which is important). Apparently for Blond criminal gangs just magically form after hearing liberalism’s social ontology, and then randomly move to loot unprovoked by any concrete socio-economic situation. Gangs have nothing to do with poverty and its resultant territoriality. The linked Joesph Rowntree Foundation report suggests that violent teenage gangs are not the result of rampant individualism, but actually “a source of friendship and group solidarity” and are “sometimes motivated by a sense of ownership over the area, and the desire to protect the area or oneself” – a dark version of voluntary association and localism Red Toryism! His solution in part is that apparently we need to really crack down on the poor areas, that we have abandoned to policing. This is a new level of idiocy, since one of the initial causes of the rioting was the fact that policing of the areas was over zealous, with near constant stop and searches, particularly for black and minority ethnic men.

But it reveals something that has been common to the right-wing commentariat responses to the incidents. From the left there is a notion that sociological causes for the riots, give some sense of mitigation of the responsibility of participants, that it isn’t ultimately their fault. This does not mean events cannot be condemned, but that the reasons for them tell us that those involved may have reasons that should promote leniency. The left attempt to solve the problem at its source rather than its surface effects of the disturbance – admitting firmly that the problem has deep roots.  The responses, they claim – i.e. throwing alleged rioters families out of their council accommodation will only exacerbate the problem. However, on the right, no explanation can be rendered, it is criminality pure and simple, to be cracked down upon a la Blond. To explain is to endorse. Yet, in the same breath, it is the result of the dominance of liberal elites, the lack of discipline in schools, the end of family life, rap music and so on. Yet despite these causes of the individuation of the ‘feral youth’, that are not their fault, but the fault of wider liberal society, they must be cracked down on as hard as possible.

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Memes Glorious Memes

Everyone loves memes, how we chuckle at LOLcats, how we laugh at their inherent creativity, how some of us take them pretty seriously politically. Conor Cunningham, however, really doesn’t like them. In an interview for the The Other Journal he lets rip:

as for memes, they are pure nonsense; you may as well speak of astrology or the X-Files. Not to sound too paradoxical, but if memes existed, first, we would never know, how could we? Second, how could there be more than one? Sure, we have things like fashion that some of us follow, but if, as Dawkins, Blackmore, Dennett, and company insist, we are created by memes rather than the other way around, then in a sense, there could only ever be one metameme. There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme. All thoughts would just be examples of the one “truth,” the metameme. This would have catastrophic consequences for science, because all scientific theories would be products of the selfish meme, like some great matrix; radical epistemological and ontological scepticism would surely follow.

I actually agree. From the perspective of any decent sociology mimetics is bunk and it makes no sense at all as social science. First because the problem of individuation Cunningham hints toward, second, the fact that Dawkins and crew tend to only consider it pejoratively in regard to religion, and third that like evolutionary psychology itself it is an inappropriate and facile explanation in the social sphere that tends towards ‘just-so’ stories that can never be verified or even argued against. However, these are not the claims here – there is an immediate move to the poking of philosophical problems. The argument for this is that all if all thoughts are memes then there must be some kind of flattening of distinction – all memes are equally true. But I don’t see how it this ends in there being one big meme “There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme” – I don’t see how that follows – surely even if we agree that there is this floating world of total untrue memes with no one being actually true as they are all memes, then I don’t see how this means there is one great big meme behind them – one massive ‘O Rly?’ owl, say.

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Richard Dawkins Keynesianism

I am with Negri on Keynes that Keynes was “a gentleman – that is, an honest bourgeois, not a petty-bourgeois like Proudhon, or an ideologue, but an easy man”. Proudhon was a localist after all, and we all know the petty-bourgeois nature of localism and those who believe it can resist capitalism – more on this later! Not that we should confuse any of the recent attempts at government intervention and regulation with Keynesianism – of course, none of them even consider the possibility of full employment as being a necessary goal. And we certainly shouldn’t confuse Keynesianism with anti-capitalism like so many friends do. I digress.

The popular form of Keynes states that inorder to stimulate the economy in the event of one of capitalism’s systematic downturns, the government must perform more activity, creating jobs and stimulating the economy as a whole, kicking the recovery into gear. This is illustrated by an example from his masterpiece The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money:

if the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.

The simple point was – and against those who would claim that you need to build something socially useful (though this is to the good if this is possible, because more satisfied secure people do more economic activity) – the government should do something, anything to stimulate the economy.

My premise is this then – the government should require Richard Dawkins to release yet another book of the ilk of The God Delusion – feel free to come up with your own names in the comments. The sheer stimulation of the publishing industry, both in terms of newsprint and books either refuting his claims line by line, systematically or morally, or piggy backing his claims with fresh praise, would increase the economy to an unprecedented extent. The book should be a mix of generally bad arguments (like many of those he gives in the forebear) and very good (perhaps outsourced to the best atheist philosophers of religion) and/or very subtle and convoluted arguments indeed (perhaps those that it is near impossible to decipher and are open to numerous contradictory interpretations)  that would generate far more responses at far higher level of scholarship than the rather thin dash he gives us there. Better still, he could maybe do a series of the books.

Considering this would be done in a private consultation with Dickie Dawkins, it would sneak around conservatives opposed to stimulation of the economy. Its as good idea as any – maybe they could convince him to perhaps convert to a minor and obscure religion, in order to stimulate a further flurry of publication?

Two Free Books On The Neoliberal University and Protest

Everybody loves a free book, so I present to you today two free books that might be of general interest to readers here, along the theme of the general battles around education and its funding occurring in the UK and globally.

The first is Fight Back! A Reader on the Winter of Protest, available as free PDF download and very reasonable (£1.48) Kindle version to save you the bother of conversion of formats. At 350 pages, it is a collection of accounts, journalistic reports, theoretical reflections, interviews and practical guides on the winter of education protests that occurred here in the United Kingdom against sweeping changes in higher education funding. These changes seek to move from a tax payer provided service for the public good to hyper-indivdualised marketised system with an ontology based upon advantage to private individuals. This programme includes a potential tripling the level of tuition fees with an introduction of variable market rates, vast cuts to central funding, particularly of the humanities, and the under-reported (and perhaps vital for US students looking to study in the UK) slashing of the numbers of student visas. This is, of course, an element of the wider austerity program, and students were keen to emphasise from the beginning their solidarity with those fighting the Coalition government’s wider austerity agenda and austerity agendas globally. It is a book that is consciously by the movement and for the movement, hoping to inform and provoke debate. With the second phase of university occupations occurring on the run up to the mass trade union day of protest (40 universities were occupied in the last round), it is an opportune time to give it a look and if you are from outside the UK get up to speed.

In a similar vein is the PDF version of the book Toward a Global Autonomous University produced by the trans-national collective Edu-Factory. Very much influenced by autonomous Marxist trends, the new thinking on what the politics of the common and thinkers like Hardt and Negri (Negri here provides a co-written conclusion), it is a provocative look at the current place of the university in capitalist society and the possibility of alternative formations. This book and their website, which includes reports from their very recent conference attended by education activists from across the world (including many UK occupations), are certainly worth a read.

Class Struggle and Christianity For Christmas

Hard left Labour party member, philosophy of logic liker, Catholic and avid coffee drinker Simon Hewitt has been doing an excellent series on Marxism and Christianity and seemingly he hasn’t even heard yet of Roland Boer‘s work!

In the first post, Simon sets the scene, in the second he discusses the meeting ground for religious and atheistic Marxists in a something like Aristotelian style naturalistic ethics – among other gems include that as grace completes nature we can all agree socialism from nature anyone with any sense should overthrow capitalism, and that Marxists should only worry about religion being opiate when it destroys commitment to socialism. Some of the moves here remind me a lot of similar ones I attempted in my essay for After the Postsecular and the Postmodern (USUK) where I attempted to sketch a non-atheistic (and also non-theistic) account of the generic secular as pluralism, that would please neither Dawkins and Hari or aggressive theological anti-secularists. The third (and not final) post in the series discusses the ethics of revolutionary violence and whether Christians could support it. This is done partly via Herbert McCabe’s classic required reading ‘The Class Struggle and Christian Love‘ wherein everyone’s favourite editor of Modern Theology claims that since class struggle is an objective reality which it is impossible to stay neutral in (‘it is just there; we are on either one side or the other’) Christianity must be on the side of the proletariat, against myriad soggy Christian socialisms and distributisms which only prop up the system and must consider revolution as one of its aims on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount – Christian pacifists beware!

Speaking of soggy distributisms that only prop up the class struggle ideologically on behalf of the rich (cough recent missives from the radically orthodox stable supporting the Conservative reforms in higher education that will free marketise the whole system and destroy the humanities as such as part of a larger scheme of austerity which will throw almost a million children into absolute poverty over the next three years), Simon also has a post on Phillip Blond et al that is worth reading. Among other points that amuse and inform, in the sense that RO is utterly unable to locate and self-critique itself within class society then it is in fact, pretty similar to liberalism. Oh and that Red Toryism shares many similarities to other third ways, ie, close to fascism. Enjoy!

Tables, Ladders and Chairs: Telos, Artificial Negativity and The Big Society (2 of 2)

The second part of my critique of Telos’ theoretical inventions, the first part I posted a while back. Here I try and show how both artificial negativity and the new class are incoherent concepts – and that the examples of organic traditions Telos point to are false. I suggest, briefly (its long enough already and longer in the ‘proper’ version where I go through some more traditions!), that this shows the concept is purely polemical rather than analytic. I firmly apologise for transgressing the limits of acceptable blog post length, but hope someone, somewhere finds this a bit interesting, particularly the idea that the Tories ‘Big Society’ should be a prime example of artificial negativity thus showing the concept of artificial negativity makes no sense.

In a wonderful if hilarious article for the 1989 December issue of Telos, Timothy Luke, one of the primary progenitors of the artificial negativity thesis, writes a delicious article ‘Xmas Ideology: Unwrapping the New Deal and the Cold War under the Christmas Tree’1, which is replied to directly afterwards by Paul Piccone2. In it Luke claims that Christmas films such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn and White Christmas are an almost perfect example of artificial negativity. Against the crass commercialisation of Christmas, they appear to offer an authentic core of love and human compassion that are unspoilt. In fact, Luke argues, they are merely a way of briefly compensating for the aggressive fragmentation of late capitalism, and actually perpetuating it. The films “generate ideologies of self-gratification and fulfilment as in the cult of Christmas, which rather than being cast as a Christian celebration of Christ’s birth, is instead turned into a fantasy of self-fulfilment and collective solidarity as part of a celebration of materialistic giving (and receiving)”.


The Christian rituals of Christmas, then, have been remanufactured by capital and the state during WWII and the Cold War into “Xmas”. Without it, the rituals of life in consumer society might disintegrate even more than they have already, making Xmas an essential aspect of exchange. It mediates the forms of subjectivity in the intimate sphere of caring with corporate agendas of spending and having. Christmas as “Xmas” becomes in film the essential simulation of settled social traditions, family unity, and collective purpose for many modern American Pottersvilles that otherwise lack these qualities.

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